Sunday, December 19, 2010

[Company] SHAFT - Who are they?

So, one of the most told animation studio is probably Kyoto Animation, Shaft, P.A. Works and GAINAX. These four studio's name values are exceptional, but they also have one of the biggest anti-groups as well. Still, it is true that if you are fan of 'certain' studio, it will always be one of 4; no-one really says they are fan of 'Sunrise' or 'JC Staff'.Well, what I'm going to do is revealing detailed informations on various animations studios (especially those four above) will provide better understandings on how they work and what is their specific characteristics and principles.
Links to other informations:

Average DVD/BD Sales
Madoka Magica Production History

Source:/Other links:
Shaft website 
  • Name: SHAFT inc.
  • Market Information: Unlisted
  • Established Date: 1975/09/01
  • Executive: Kubota Mitsutoshi

There is history, for everything. SHAFT inc. was established in 1975 by Wakao Hiroshi, pretty long history (35 years). They started as a small busyness of finishing the animations from big studios such as Sunrise, mostly colouring and painting of animations. Interestingly, 'Studio DEEN' also established in the same year and worked as subcontracted company on series. They built up their experiences and grow, and soon they were able to complete their 'own' first animation series, 'Junni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger' in 1995, produced by NHK. After they worked with 'Top wo Nerae!'s DVD specials with GAINAX in 2000, SHAFT started to produce animations with Gainax with the same 'producer' title; those series include 'Ugly yet Beautiful World' and 'Mahocromatic'.

Later Wakao Hiroshi retired in 2004 and 'Kubota Mitsutoshi' became new chief director of Shaft, and this is where Shaft really started to actually get 'recognised' by otaku community. It's only 6 years ago. Kubota scouts 'Shinbo Akiyuki' and other young animators like 'Oonuma Shin' and 'Oishi Tatsuya' (aka 'Team Shinbo'). Especially Shinbo, was scouted as a 'educator' and 'supervisor' of Shaft, in purpose of training staffs in Shaft. They were now able to undertake 2-cour projects, due to the improvements in filming and digital editing department. 'New' Shaft started their own animation with 'Moon Phrase' (2004) and other 'moe' centered items thus finally getting noticed by various animation fans. 'Pani Poni Dash' can be called as 'epitome of Shaft/shinbo-ness' and you will actually see how all the series they make is hugely influenced by directions in this series. 

The actual turning point of Shaft, imo, was 'Negima!?', especially Oishi Tatsuya's Opening animation;

If you are Shaft fan, you are instantly love this. If you are Shaft anti, you will instantly hate this. The same thing happened with this entire series at that time. It turned off a lot of fans, but at the same time, they established one of the most profound fans. Having more than average 10,000 sales explains its impact, and Shaft became 'only' studio that you can actually call 'unique' and 'consistent' in terms of their directions and style. They did semi-hit with Hidamari Sketch series and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but also built up their notoriousness on their busy schedules and failing to finish animation in time. (Hidamari 365 'Mt. FUJI' incident) However, they always promised to complete animations and improve/fix the qualities of TV aired episodes, which is primary reason why fans never fell off. (*Shinbo once said in interview that he always wants to fix as much as he can in DVD/BD releases, and he has always been doing it.)

This entire building belongs to Shaft and probably the only studio they have
There effort finally pays off with 'Bakemonogatari' in 2009, which became one of the greatest hit in anime industry, even bigger than Suzumiya Haruhi moe boom. It sells over 80,000 figure per volume, which is practically 'impossible' for any late night TV series which is not mecha. There are various, complex reasons with Bakemonogatari's success; but no-one can deny that direction of Shaft and their built up potential for 5 years under Shinbo's command greatly assisted this ridiculous sales figure.

However at the same time, it was apparent that Shaft was having major issues with their scheduling and staff managements. Releasing 10th episode of Bakemonogatari with 'NO-ANIMATION' was one of the greatest production disaster of animation industry... (...deja vu?..) The fact was clear when we saw all those chalkboard jokes in Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and Kamiya Hiroshi's (Shaft's favourite seiyuu, who did Itoshiki Nozomu and Murararagi Gomi.) interview, "You can't help it. Shaft is just too busy recently". They again underwent two series at the same time, which resulted on total screw up of 'Dance in the Vampire Bund' which was totally animated by 'other' studio, basically. They still managed to get some sweet sales with Hidamari ☆☆☆ (above 9,000 sales per volume), but it still does not justifies the fact that animation of DitVB was very low quality. This 2009 and 2010 were probably the worst year of Shaft if Bakemonogatari did not exist. Natsu no Arashi, Maria+Holic, Ef - a tale of melodies, Arakawa Under the Bridge all failed financial.

The hope is not lost. A lot of rumour proved that many of talented staffs from 'GONZO', especially from 3D animation and technical division, joined the team of Shaft in 2009 (although, it did not help Bakemonogatari's schedule anyway as what they need was 'actual animators' who draw, not specific skill-men.) Shaft still has their unique style of directions that makes them actually 'unique' among any other studios, which I appreciate, a lot. In 2011, another big title with Aniplex, Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica will be produced by Shaft. They are also animating their second attempt on light novel adaptation in this April, 'Denpa Onna no Seishun Otoko'. It is still mystery rather these will do as good as Bakemonogatari did, or fall flat (financially) as other series. However, it is true that it is getting most hype over any other series this winter 2011 season.


Shaft is so unique in every-way compare to any other studios. Let's go with the surface elements, directions.

Honestly, direction of shaft is equivalent of direction of 'Shinbo Akiyuki'. Well, direction itself isn't really particularly 'amazing', as they are all sometimes used by other animators such as Anno Hideki and Yamakan. The thing is; 'Shinbo Akiyuki bring all those 'minor' elements of direction to extreme, and make it his 'own' style'. The 'directions of Shaft' is now even considered  to be 'brand' since it is so distinctive and they never, ever changes this style regardless of what anime they produce.

Episode 1 Bakemonogatari
The most notable thing about their direction is use of text and live action photos. As you see, it's sometimes even monochrome background with text only, or pure 'REAL PEOPLE' footage such as Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge ending theme. Another thing is that they blow 'massive amount of budget' in OP and ED sequences. I can even call it, 'the miracle of 1 and a half minutes'. So far, Shaft is the only studio that actually makes me to go through OP and ED every single episode without skipping. They changes them so frequently throughout the series; in Natsu no Arashi season 2, the lyrics of OP theme was different in EVERY FUCKIN SINGLE EPISODE. Bakemonogatari had FIVE different openings with totally different animation. Shinbo has his own way of direction for Camera angles, colouring and use of stop-pictures. Another really notable thing about Shaft is 'end card preview'. At the end of all episode since Pani Poni Dash, Shaft always have drawing from doujin, other animators, mangakas and even some famous ones like Hiro Mashima (author of rave). This became more like 'tradition' of shaft along with their unique directions, and this end card thing becoming 'GLOBAL' (?) trend for any series such as Ore no Imouto and Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai. Their direction usually fits really well with series with a lot of conversations, such as Bakemonogatari and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but criticised for ruining mood that series supposed to have. Shaft is known for fixing a lot of scenes in DVD/BD versions. It is sort of marketing strategy but at the same time, it was also major ingredient to build fan bases of their own.

Shinbo Akiyuki
Their uniqueness does not end here. If you see the staff role, you see 'director', 'series composition', 'music', 'character designer' and all sort of things, but you will never see 'series director' anywhere except those from Shaft. In order to understand 'series director', you need to know the fundamental role of 'Shinbo Akiyuki' in Shaft studio. He was scouted as a 'trainer' and 'supervisor'. He is a director, yet he 'DOES NOT' draw any contis (the drawing/sketch of basic directional elements and scenes in panel format.) or layouts in most of series. Someone who balances the entire series and do actual practical job is 'series director'; Shinbo is more of 'supervisor'. However, Shinbo's influence over the series still massive and he works as much as any other members, probably even more than any other directors do. All the current staffs of Shaft is those who are used to, and ok with Shinbo's dictatorship and direction - aka hive-minded. Shinbo supervises almost every single thing his staffs do with god-like speed, which brings much admiration from other team members from Shaft. (*One of the new Shaft staff member said 'Shinbo is very strict. Usually, he grins a lot and walks swinging his arms in light mood, but when it comes to work, he changes entirely. Even his voice tone is different. Not only that, he is checking every single works by 'himself'. Even though he never appears in a staff role, he checks contis, layouts, after-recordings, series compositions with amazing speed. He also has very strong belief over his works.')


After the finishing recording of Bakemonogatari, Sawashiro Miyuki (Kanbaru Suruga role) said, 'Animations are made of miracle'.

Fans of Shaft is very distinctive; they either like every directions Shaft does, or despise them all. A lot of people apparently hate Shaft due to these directions that turns some parts off. But think differently. When every other studio does 'A', being only studio which does 'B' needs a lot of faith and courage. The greatest of Shaft is not just being unique in direction, it is about pushing those directions to its limits and make a use of it as a commercial strategy. I said above that directions of Shaft is now established as a 'brand'. Here is an example;

Q: There are people who call [Shinbo Direction] and think you are making animation arbitrarily.

Shinbo Akiyuki: It cannot be helped even if it looks like it. To put it in an extreme way, Me, 'Shaft' and our works never once evaluated positively.

Studio SHAFT is a risk taker. Shaft is a 'ONLY' studio that you can actually them 'characteristic'. When every other studio does similar directions, similar style of animations and similar series, Shaft picks up most unusual series and animates them with their own directions that no-one can copy. You might hate it, but it can't be helped; that's what Shaft to in order to survive in 'red ocean' market. They created their own 'blue ocean' to generate fans demand and this is not only cost efficient for themselves but also differentiates them from other studios creating the whole new demands (eg. fixing animations in DVD). Honestly, I think if Shaft falls like GONZO, that means the end of animation industry is near. Shaft is generated by highly specific mania fanbase; fall of Shaft will be an indication of mania/otaku fanbase's fall. To antis, let's think this way. If all animation studio was using the same direction that Shaft does, will you still able to hate Shaft for those 'annoying' directions? Being different never correlates with quality. It will be much more relevant and open-minded to approve their beliefs and individuality.

However, there are things that Shaft must fix in order to become a big studio like Kyoto Animation. They really need to adjust their schedule and focus on quality improvement. Those Fuji incident, 10th episode disaster, DitVB screw up is not a coincident. There is a direct cause of being low of staff members and failing at time management. Look at kyoto animation: they only release about 2 series in a year, yet due to the quality they always give in maximum, they are one of the most profitable studio of all. Shaft is a bit different due to their fanbase being much more minor than those kyoani has, but they still need to work with pace.

Being huge fan of Shaft, I really appreciate their faith and artisan spirit. I would like them to keep those unique directions and become light and salt of this grey animation industry.

List of Works by Shaft:
1995: Junni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger
1997: Sakura Diaries
2000: Dotto koni-chan
2001~2002: Mahocromatic (with GAINAX)
2003: Popotan
2004: This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (joint with GAINAX)
2004: Tsukuyomi: Moon Phrase
2005: He is my master (with Gainax)
2005: Pani Poni Dash!
2006: REC
2006: Negima!?
2007: Hidamari Sketch
2007: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
2007: Ef - a tale of memories
2008: Hidamari Sketch x 365
2008: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
2008: Ef - a tale of melodies
2009: Maria+Holic
2009: Natsu no Arashi!
2009: Bakemonogatari
2009: Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
2009: Natsu no Arashi! Aki nai chu
2010: Hidamari Sketch x ☆☆☆
2010: Dance in the Vampire Bund
2010: Arakawa Under the Bridge
2010: Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge
2010: Soredemo Machi wa mawatteiru
2011: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica
2011: Denpa Onna no Seishun Otoko
2011: Maria=Holic Season 2
????: Kizumonogatari
????: Hidamari Sketch 4th season


I didn't check grammar which will be extremely bad. Just remember that I stutters a lot.


  1. This is an excellent post and very helpful! Thanks for it! As a SHAFT fanboy, I'm always glad to learn more about them.

  2. SHAFT = Troll Face

  3. >Still, it is true that if you are fan of 'certain' studio, it will always be one of 4; no-one really says they are fan of 'Sunrise' or 'JC Staff'.
    That's the most retarded bullshit I've ever read. Also, PA Works is shit.

  4. Quite interesting Thanks for the info

  5. i never got this kind of info before, but i did make some theories that similar to this info since i have seen lot of Shaft's works. Thanks, now my theories have proof.

  6. SHAFT and P.A. Works being one of the most told animation studios? Bullshit. What about Madhouse, Sunrise and Bones? Shaft is like nothing compared to them.

  7. @Anon: The most told animation studio 'RECENTLY'.

    Sunrise, ok. But Madhouse? Bones? you've got to be kidding me.

  8. Recently...Madhouse, ok... but Bones is... at least for fans who have an actual taste and aren't watching anime just for moe.

    Madoka is first good anime by Shaft... all they made before was shit imo.

  9. @Anon: Madhouse is only creating marvel anime recently, which are all disappointing. I will never call Madhouse especially when discussing characteristic and specific-fan-based studios. Bones is just... falling and falling honestly. Gosick, Star Driver, Heroman has all been disappointment. FMA was manga adaptation, Soul Eater butchered by original ending, DTB ending was orz.

    For Shaft, it is way too much dependent on taste issue. That's why it can create both strong fanbase and anti-fanbase.

  10. X-Men is actually pretty decent, but yeah, you're right, the rest sucks.

    Star Driver wasn't that bad actually... Gosick is an adaptation of light novel. Bones stands out because of the animation, which is on-par with Gainax.

    And that's it... I don't like their style. Shinbo's best work are imo his Yu Yu Hakusho episodes back in early 90's.